What a long, strange trip it’s been for the New York Mets — and their offseason isn’t even two months old, yet.
It appears as though Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson have found their general manager after multiple reports on Monday revealed that they are bringing on Billy Eppler to head up baseball operations for the 2022 season.
The 46-year-old was temporarily out of baseball, working as a co-leader of a new baseball division for the William Morris Endeavor agency, but has largely spent the last two decades working in the front offices for teams in big-market cities.
Eppler rose through the New York Yankees’ ranks, from a scout in 2004 to assistant general manager over an 11-year tenure with the club. In 2015, he was hired by the Los Angeles Angels as their general manager, a post which he assumed through the 2020 season.
Experience in New York and Los Angeles certainly provides the experience that Alderson was alluding to when he spoke last week about how potentially working in New York City provided hesitancy amongst many candidates.
That list of prospective front-office candidates was a long one. The Mets whiffed on hiring a president of baseball operations (POBO) for a second-straight year after the likes of Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, and David Stearns — the latter being the team’s perceived No. 1 target — passed. While Epstein and Beane chose not to uproot their current situations to come to the Mets, Stearns was never given a chance to interview as the Milwaukee Brewers blocked their POBO from negotiations.
Stearns is believed to have one year remaining on his contract with the Brewers, which could lead to the Mets making an all-out push for him next winter for their POBO vacancy. It might help their chances bringing on Eppler, who is reportedly very good friends with the 38-year-old Manhattan native who grew up a Mets fan.
For now, Eppler will report to Alderson as he tries to tweak a roster that shows plenty of promise on paper but woefully underwhelmed in 2021. That includes potentially retaining major free agents such as right fielder Michael Conforto, starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman, shortstop Javier Baez, and reliever Aaron Loup.
In that department, Eppler has shown a track record of making the big splash. With the Angels, he won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, negotiated Mike Trout’s massive 12-year, $426.5 million contract, signed star third baseman Anthony Rendon, and pulled off notable trades for Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons.
The problem was that he was unable to field a consistent playoff contender. In fact, the Angels only had a winning record once in his six seasons as general manager largely because of an inability to build a competent pitching staff.
His lone managerial hiring did not work out too well, either, as Brad Ausmus lasted just one 90-loss season in 2019 before he was fired.
Not only do the Mets need to find a way to round out a pitching staff that only has Jacob deGrom — coming off an injury-plagued 2021 — Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, and David Peterson as secured, legitimate options, but they are also the only team in Major League Baseball looking for a manager.
Needless to say, this is going to be a difficult first test for the Mets’ expected GM.